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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 March, 2004, 14:43 GMT
Consuming culture on the net

By Keily Oakes
BBC News Online entertainment staff

As George Michael announces his future releases will only be available on the internet, BBC News Online examines the ups and downs popular culture has had in transferring to the web.

George Michael
George Michael sees his future on the information superhighway
George Michael's plan to release future tracks on the internet comes at a time when record labels are desperate to recoup money from the ever growing community who use the internet as their primary source of music.

More and more people are consuming their popular culture on the internet, particularly as faster connections become more widely available.

Here is a look at how popular culture has embraced the internet and in turn embraced by net users:


The music industry is in the process of being transformed by the internet, years after internet users realised the potential of swapping songs and downloading them for personal use.

In the late 1990s the number of sites dedicated to downloading music grew rapidly, firing a warning signal to the industry. Record executives feared that songs downloaded for free from the net meant lost revenue for the industry.

Once the record industry started taking notice, it was already too late to avert a crisis, as record sales plunged around the world.

The industry was just as slow in realising it had to get in on the action itself and launch legal services that would generate revenue.

Lawsuits were issued against a number of prolific music pirates but there was a feeling that it was too little too late.

But recent innovations where users pay for downloads have proved a success, particularly in the US.

iPods are invigorating the legal download market
The success of iTunes and the relaunched legal Napster in the US have shown people are willing to pay for their music from the internet. These have yet to be launched in Europe or beyond.

The popularity of Apple's iPod systems has also placed digital music in a different arena, with gadget fans, rather than just net users, turning to the internet for music.

Virgin has announced it is to install digital music stations in its shops to allow users to completely bypass traditional formats and buy and download tracks straight into their portable players.


The movie industry is fearful of mirroring mistakes made by the record business and has been monitoring online piracy but has not resorted to legal action.

Peter Jackson
Will Peter Jackson's next film be online?
It does continually issues warnings that people illegally downloading movies are stealing from core film workers and not just faceless corporations.

The president of the Motion Picture Association of America Jack Valenti has promised that legal online movies would become a reality by 2005, with him some films going online before their DVD release.

But there is a flourishing market for film piracy on the internet, with new films and DVD releases widely available for free download.

But it is still a slow process to download a film from the internet, with some taking days to download, depending on internet connection speeds. This means only the most dedicated would bother.

It also requires a certain amount of technical know how and can only usually be viewed on a computer.

There are services which offer legal downloads of movies but these are the equivalent of renting because a film can only be viewed by the purchaser for a maximum of 30 days.


TV through the internet is still its infancy but broadcasters are increasingly seeing it as extra area for their output.

Walking With Dinosaurs
The BBC is the first major broadcaster to propose putting programmes online
The BBC is releasing thousands of clips of its factual programmes, including natural history material, with a view to extending it to other genres in the future.

Web users already have the option of viewing news programmes and clips through services including the BBC or other big news organisations.

Many radio stations offer their programmes streamed live on the web, while thousands of other stations are purely web-based, offering a wide selection of music styles and genres.

There is a confined problem of piracy of TV programmes, in which people download new episodes of TV programmes usually shown in the US but yet to air in other countries.

Like movies, it is a somewhat technical process and one half-hour episode could take a whole evening to download. As a result there has been no concerted effort to stamp out the practice.


Galleries and museums have increasingly been putting their collections online.

The Tate galleries put their entire collection on the web to allow virtual visitors to explore more comprehensively than ever before.

But it is not meant as a substitute for visiting the galleries, more a marketing tool to encourage people to go and see the real works of art.

These websites can also be used as educational tools, as they can carry so much information about pieces.

The Metropolitan Museum in New York offers detailed information about its collection, as well as providing a window to its massive archives.


The business of books has had a mixed fortune on the internet.

Stephen King
Stephen King's attempt at an e-book crashed
On the one hand online book sales sites like Amazon have been thriving, but the anticipated demand for books that can be downloaded has been slim.

Horror writer Stephen King discovered this when he tried to embrace the medium by releasing a book exclusively online in instalments.

But the experiment backfired when King halted it after just six chapters were published, saying people had been unprepared to pay for things they usually just took for free.

It seems people are not prepared to give up their beloved books to read from a screen or pages of print outs.

But there could be a future for digital books as portable machines such as iPods are capable of recording and playing audio books.

Better screen technology for devices such as PDAs will also encourage people to read more than just e-mails on their portable machines.

George Michael shuns music industry
10 Mar 04  |  Entertainment
Blow to online music piracy fight
19 Dec 03  |  Technology
Strong debut for iTunes for PCs
20 Oct 03  |  Technology
King defends halt to e-book
15 Dec 00  |  Entertainment
Online movies promised by 2005
20 Nov 03  |  Entertainment

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